The Adventures of Jimmie Dale/Part 2/Chapter 13
THE ONLY WAY
IT was a horrible thing—and it grew upon him. In a blind, mechanical way, his brain receptive to nothing else, Jimmie Dale walked on along the street. To kill a man! Death he had faced himself a hundred times, witnessed it a hundred times in its most violent forms, had seen murder done before his eyes, had been in straits where, to save his own life, it had seemed the one last desperate chance—and yet his hands were still clean! To kill a man in fair fight, in struggle, when the blood was hot, was terrible enough, a possibility that was always before him, the one thing from which he shrank, the one thing that, as the Gray Seal, he had always feared; but to kill a man deliberately, to creep upon his victim with hideous, cold-blooded premeditation—he shivered a little, and his hand shook as he drew it nervously across his eyes.
But there was no other way! Again and again, insidiously grappling with his revulsion, with the horror that the impulse to murder inspired, came that other thought—there was no other way. If the man who posed as Henry LaSalle were dead! If he were dead! If he were dead! See, now, what would happen if that man were dead! How clear his brain was on that point! The whole plot would tumble like a house of cards about the heads of the Crime Club. The courts would require an auditing of the estate by a trustee of the courts' own appointing, who would continue to administer it until the Tocsin's twenty-fifth birthday, or until there was tangible evidence of her death—but the Tocsin, automatically with her pseudo uncle's death, could publicly appear again. Her death could no longer benefit the Crime Club, since it, the Crime Club, with the supposed uncle dead, could not profit through the false Henry LaSalle inheriting as next of kin! It was the weak link, the vulnerable point in the stupendous scheme of murder and crime with which these hell fiends had played for and won, so far, the stake of eleven millions. Not that they had overlooked or been blind to this, they were too clever, too cunning for that—it was only that they had planned to accomplish the Tocsin's death, as they had her father's and uncle's, and establish the false Henry LaSalle in undisputed possession and ownership of the estate—and had failed in that—up to the present. But the material results remained the same, so long as the Tocsin, to save her life, was forced to remain in hiding, so long as proof that would convict the Crime Club was not forthcoming—so long as that man lived!
Time passed to which Jimmie Dale was oblivious. At times he walked slowly, scarcely moving; at times his pace was a nervous, hurried stride, that was almost a run. And as he was oblivious to time, so was he oblivious to his surroundings, to the direction which he took. At times his forehead was damp with moisture that was not there from physical exertion; at times his face, deathly white, was full as of the vision of some shuddering, abhorrent sight; at times his lips were thinned into a straight line, and there was a glitter in the dark eyes that was not good to see, while his hands at his sides clenched until the skin, tight over the knuckles, was an ivory white. To kill a man!
What other way was there? The proof that it had taken Hilton Travers years to obtain, the proof on which the Tocsin's life depended, was destroyed utterly, irreparably. It could never be duplicated—Hilton Travers was dead—murdered. Murder! That thought again! It was their own weapon! Murder! Would one kill a venomous reptile in whose fangs was death? What right had this man to life, whose life was forfeit even under the law—for murder? Was she to drag on an intolerable existence among the dregs and the scum of the underworld, she, in her refinement and her purity, to exist among the vile and dissolute, in daily hourly peril of her life, because the weapons that these inhuman vultures had used to rob her, to destroy those she loved, to make of her life a hideous, joyless thing, should not be used against them?
But to kill a man! To steal upon a man with cold intent in the blackness of the night—and take his life! To be a murderer! To know the horror of blood forever upon one's hands, to rise, cold-sweated, in the night, fearful of the very shadows around one, to live with every detail of that fearsome act sweeping like some dread spectre at unexpected moments upon the consciousness! He put up his hands before his face, as though to blot out the thought from him. Mind and soul recoiled before it—to kill a man!
He walked on and on, until at last, conscious of a sense of fatigue, he stopped. He must have come a long way, been walking a long time. Where was he? He looked about him for a moment in a dazed way—and suddenly, with a low cry, shrank back. As though he had been drawn to it by some ghastly magnet, he found himself standing in front of the LaSalle mansion, on Fifth Avenue, No, no; it was not for that he had come—to kill a man! It was only—only to get that money. Yes—he remembered now—that money from the safe, before the Magpie got it. The Magpie was to be there at three o'clock—and the Tocsin was to be there, too. The Tocsin! That package! He had failed! It had been her one hope, and—and it was gone. What could he say to her? How could he tell her the miserable truth? But—but he had not come there in the dead of night to kill a man, these other things were what had——
"Jimmie!" It was a quick-breathed whisper. A hand was on his arm.
He turned, startled. It was the Tocsin—Silver Mag.
"Jimmie!" in alarm. "Why are you standing here like this? You may be seen!"
Seen! Suppose he were seen? He shuddered a little.
"Yes; that's so!" he said hoarsely. He glanced numbly up and down the wide, deserted, but well-lighted, avenue. It was no place, that most aristocratic section of the city, for such as Silver Mag and Larry the Bat to be seen at that hour of night, or, rather, morning. And if anything happened inside that house! "I—I didn't think of that," he said mechanically.
"Come across the street—under the stoop of that house there." She had his arm, and was half dragging him as she spoke, the alarm in her voice intensified. And then, a moment later, safe from observation: "Jimmie, Jimmie, what is the matter? What has happened? What makes you act so strangely?"
"Nothing," he said. "I——"
"Tell me!" she insisted wildly.
And then, with a violent effort, Jimmie Dale forced his mind back to the immediate present. He was only inspiring her with terror—and there was the Magpie—and that money in the safe!
"Where is the Magpie?" he asked, with quick apprehension. "Am I late Is he in there already?"
"No," she said. "He hasn't come yet."
"What time is it?" he demanded anxiously.
"About half-past two," she replied. "But, Jimmie——"
"Wait!" he broke in. "Where is he now? You were both together! And you were both to be here at three. What are you doing here alone at half-past two?"
A strange little exclamation, one almost of dismay, it seemed, escaped her.
"The Magpie left my place an hour ago—to get his kit, I think. And I came here at once because that was what you and I understood I was to do, wasn't it? Jimmie, you frighten me! You are not yourself. Don't you remember the last words you said, as you nodded to me behind the Magpie's back—that you would be here before us? There was no mistaking your meaning—if I could get away from him, I was to come here and meet you."
Jimmie Dale passed his hand nervously across his eyes. Of course, he remembered now! What a frightful turmoil his brain had been in!
"Yes; of course!" He tried to speak nonchalantly. "I had forgotten for the moment."
She caught his arm in a quick, tight hold, shaking him in a terrified way.
"You—forget a thing like that! Jimmie—something terrible has happened. Can't you see that I am nearly mad with anxiety! What is it? What is it? That package, Jimmie—is it the package?"
He did not answer. What could he say? It meant life, hope, joy, everything that the world held for her—and it was gone.
"Yes—it is the package!" she whispered frantically. "Quick, Jimmie! Tell me! It—it was not there? You—you could not find it?"
"It was there," he said, as though the words were literally forced from him.
"Then? Then—what, Jimmie?" The clutch on his arm was like a vise.
"They got it," he said. It was like a death sentence that he pronounced. "It is destroyed."
She did not speak or move—save that her hands, as though nerveless and without strength, fell away from his arms, and dropped to her sides. It was dark there under the stoop, though not so dark but that he could see her face. It was gray—gray as death. And there was misery and fear and a pitiful helplessness in it—and then she swayed a little, and he caught her in his arms.
"Gone!" she murmured in a dead, colourless way—and suddenly laughed out sharply, hysterically.
"Don't! For God's sake, don't do that!" he pleaded wildly.
She looked at him then for a moment in strange quiet—and lifted her hand and stroked his face in a numbed way.
"It—it would have been better, Jimmie, wouldn't it," she said in the same monotonous voice, "it would have been better if—if I had never found out anything, and they—they had done the same to me that they did to—to father."
"Marie! Marie!" It was the first time he had ever spoken her name, and it was on his lips now in an agony of tenderness and appeal, "Don't! You mustn't speak like that!"
"I'm tired," she said. "I—I can't fight any more."
She did not cry. She lay there in his arms quite still—like a weary child.
The minutes passed. When Jimmie Dale spoke again it was irrelevantly—and his face was very white:
"Marie, describe the upper floor of that house over there for me."
She roused herself with a start.
"The upper floor?" she repeated slowly. "Why—why do you ask that?"
"Have you forgotten in turn?" he said, with a steady smile. "That money in the safe—it's yours—we can at least save that out of the wreck. You only drew the basement plan and the first floor for the Magpie—the more I know about the house the better, of course, in case anything goes wrong. Now, see, try and be brave—and tell me quickly, for I must get through before the Magpie comes, and I have barely half an hour."
"No, Jimmie—no!" She slipped out of his arms. "Let it alone! I am afraid. Something—I—I have a feeling that something will happen."
"It is the only way." He said it involuntarily, more to himself than to her.
"Jimmie, let it alone!" she said again.
"No," he said. "I am going—so tell me quickly. Every minute that we wait is one that counts against us."
She hesitated an instant—and then, speaking rapidly, made a verbal sketch of the upper portion of the house for him.
"It's a very large house, isn't it?" he commented innocently—to pave the way for the question, above all others, that he had to ask. "Which is your uncle's, I mean that man's room?"
"The first on the right, at the head of the landing," she answered. "Only, Jimmie, don't—don't go!"
He drew her close to him again.
"Now, listen," he said quietly. "When the Magpie comes and finds I am not here, lead him to think that the money he gave me was too much for me; that I am probably in some den, doped with drug—and hold him as long as you can on the pretext that there is always the possibility I may, after all, show up before he goes in there. You understand? And now about yourself—you must do exactly as I say. On no account allow yourself to be seen by any one except the Magpie. I would tell you to go now, only, unless it is vitally necessary, we cannot afford to arouse the Magpie's suspicions—he'd have every crook in the underworld snarling at our heels. But you are not to wait, even for him, if you detect the slightest disturbance in that house before he comes. And, equally, after he has gone in, whether I have come out or not, at the first indication of anything unusual you are to get away at once. You understand—Marie?"
"Yes," she said. "But—but, Jimmie, you——"
"Just one thing more." He smiled at her reassuringly. "Did the Magpie say anything about how he intended to get in?"
"Yes—by the side away from the corner of the street," she said tremulously. "You see, there's quite a space between the house and the one next door; and, besides, the house next door is closed up, there's nobody there, the family has gone away for the summer. The library window there is low enough to reach from the ground."
For a moment longer he held her close to him, as though he could not let her go—then bent and kissed her passionately. And in that moment all the emotions he had known as he had walked blindly from Spider Jack's that night surged again upon him; and that voice was whispering, whispering, whispering: "It is the only way—it is the only way."
And then, not daring to trust his voice, he released her suddenly, and stepped back out from under the stoop—and the next instant he was across the deserted avenue. Another, and he had slipped through the iron gates that opened on the street driveway—and in yet another he was crouched close up against the front door of the LaSalle mansion.
It was a large house, a very large house, one of the few that, even amid the wealth and luxury of that quarter, boasted its own grounds, and those so restricted as scarcely to deserve the name; but it was set far enough back from the street to escape the radius of the street lamps, and so guarantee in its shadows security from observation. It was not the Magpie's way, the front door—the obvious to the Magpie and his ilk was a thing always to be shunned. Jimmie Dale's lips were set in a grim smile, as his fingers worked with lightning speed, now taking this instrument and now that from the leather pockets in the girdle beneath his shirt—the penitentiaries were full of Magpies who shunned the obvious!
Very slowly, very cautiously the door opened. He listened breathlessly, tensely. The door closed again—behind him. He was inside now. Stillness! Blackness! Not a sound! A minute went by—another. And then, as he stood there, strained, listening, the silence itself began, it seemed, to palpitate, and pound, pound, pound, and be full of strange noises. It was a horrible thing—to kill a man!